Does practice makes perfect?
Marc Cashman shares some wisdom with regard to how to develop a good practice regiment while still feeling good about practicing!
Great artists all struggled (and some still struggle!) with practicing. Marc gives you the inspiration you need to overcome the urge not to practice and the encouragement to better your craft.
Learn from one of the great masters here today on VOX Daily.
By Marc Cashman
A few years ago, a student sent me an article about world-renowned musical artists and how they felt about practicing. Every one of them said that they didn’t like to practice, but they all did it–in fact, they felt they had to practice to stay on top of their game and to keep up with or stay ahead of their competition.
There are many things in the field of voice acting that can be studied–that’s knowledge–things you learn abstractly and mentally. But skills–well, those are things you develop as you work on them, or practice. They usually involve some physical coordination, and most times they get easier the more you do them. You can learn about them in books, TV, the Internet, in lectures and classrooms. But you can’t learn to apply them unless you practice.
Practicing Makes a Difference
I started piano lessons when I was about seven years old. My piano teacher sat me down and showed me the things I was supposed to practice for the next week: different scales and a short piano piece.
He showed me how to sit, where to place my fingers, how to move them and what each exercise and piece should sound like. I was supposed to practice at least thirty minutes each day until the next lesson. And when he showed up the following week, his initial comments were either, “Marc, it sounds like you practiced,” or “Marc, it sounds like you didn’t practice.” Teachers have a way of knowing right away whether you buckled down or slacked off.
I don’t know how many times I’ve had people tell me, “I think I’ve got a pretty good voice,” and then ask, “Do you think I’d be good at voiceover?” And my answer is always the same: You can have the most beautiful-sounding voice in the world, but if you don’t know what to do with it, it’s useless.
You can learn skills, but you’ll never realize your full potential unless you practice.
Now, practicing a lot doesn’t always mean that you’ll get better the more you do it. You could be practicing wrong techniques, doing things incorrectly, practicing bad form and strengthening bad habits. That’s why it’s so important to work with an experienced instructor who’s mastered the skills you’re trying to achieve; who’s giving you specific and corrective feedback so you can build a strong foundation of skills while you’re learning.
Sometimes the exercises you practice will feel natural and easy when you’re starting out; other times they might feel awkward or downright impossible. If you experience the latter, that’s okay: you’re attempting to do something new, so feeling frustrated or self-conscious about being uncoordinated is normal. But the more you practice, the easier the exercises will become. It’s just like learning a musical instrument–it’s muscle memory, and you’re building up your mental and physical muscles.
The more familiar you get with a piece of copy, the more it’ll sound natural and conversational, because you begin to internalize it and not struggle with the “mechanics” of speaking the words.
What You Practice is Crucial
If you have a good instructor, you’ll have specific exercises to practice, vocal warm-ups that include articulating all the consonants and vowels, singing, wrestling with tongue-twisters and sibilant words and phrases.
These exercises are a great way to develop the necessary eye-brain-mouth coordination needed for all professional voiceover work. And they’re just like practicing musical scales: they’re exercises you need to perform over and over again until they flow effortlessly. And don’t rely solely on your teacher to get material to practice.
The Internet has a plethora of ad and text copy for you to practice with that you can download for free, and there are myriad V-O books on the market with hundreds of different exercises.
How You Practice is Important
Make sure your diaphragm and lungs can expand easily, that your posture is correct, that you’re projecting your voice properly and consistently moving air, letting your voice surf on waves of words.
An experienced teacher will give you resistance exercises to build up your tongue, mouth and facial muscles. They’ll also give you advice on what and what not to eat or drink before warming up. Also, recording yourself is a great way to practice. This way you can critique yourself, finding weak points that you can concentrate and improve on.
And a reminder: as you listen back to your voice, don’t beat yourself up if it’s not coming out perfect.
We’ve all heard, “Practice Makes Perfect” too many times. Now, I don’t know about perfect, but I definitely know practice makes better. You strive to be your best, you aim for perfection, but perfection is elusive.
If you practice to keep getting better, you’ll be able, many times, to hit those perfect moments, those times when you’re “in the zone,” flawlessly executing a voice performance. But if you expect to be perfect every time you get behind the mic, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
Where You Practice Also Makes a Difference
If you have a home studio (whether simple or elaborate), practice there. It’s great when you can kind of re-create the environment where you’ll eventually be performing.
Your proximity to the microphone, with and without headphones, determining a sitting or standing position, adjusting for line-of-sight (that’s where you can see the copy clearly but still be on-mic) and proper lighting are all things that you’ll encounter in the real world. The more comfortable you get, the more at ease you’ll be in an actual session. If you’re serious about voiceover and don’t have a home studio yet, look into setting one up. They’re very inexpensive now (sometimes under $500).
Getting back to the artists I mentioned at the beginning: remember they said they didn’t like practicing, but did it anyway?
Well, they found ways to make practicing interesting, challenging and fun.
Amy Nathan, author of Beating Those Practice-Time Blues, relates that Joshua Bell, world-renowned violinist, said he had plenty of fights about not wanting to practice.
Wynton Marsalis didn’t always want to play trumpet; he wanted to play basketball.
André Watts said he liked playing piano as a kid but didn’t always like doing the work.
How Did They Approach Practicing?
Joshua Bell said, “I’d set up challenges for myself, like I wouldn’t stop until I did a difficult passage a certain number of times in a row without a mistake. By the time I did it that many times, I’d learned it and made a game out of it.”
Wynton Marsalis learned how to warm up with his trumpet exercises from basketball. He said, “In basketball, you practice your foot movement, your floor game, going to either side, your jump shot, free-throw shooting. It seemed like the intelligent thing to do the same with trumpet, to work on all the different aspects of technique.”
You can do the same with copy and text. And your practicing should obviously include the pieces you’re working on. I send my students scripts to practice before they show up for class or one-on-one sessions, and then correct them, if necessary.
Flutist Paula Robison recommends finding a warm-up exercise “that makes you happy. It should be filled with music from the first note, so you warm up that part of your playing, too.”
So find text passages or ad copy that’s interesting and/or entertaining to read out loud. And practice at the volume you’d be speaking in a session, not whispering or muttering to yourself.
How Do You Get Inspired to Practice Each Day? Listen!
Listen to the voices of people you admire–your favorite audiobook narrator, your favorite documentary narrator, and demos from the top talent on Voices.com. Listen to get inspired, but don’t be intimidated. These are people who’ve practiced for thousands of hours at their craft, and continue to do so to stay on top of their game.
People ask me all the time, “Will I ever be able to be as good as the amazingly talented people I hear?” And I tell them that there’s only one way to level the playing field when going up against voice actors with a lot more experience: have great skills. And there’s only one way to develop and eventually apply those skills: practice.
Marc Cashman Â© 2009
Any Comments For Marc?
I know he’d love to hear what you think!
Looking forward to hearing from you,
P.S. If you enjoyed reading Marc’s article, be sure to listen to this article in podcast form at Voice Over Experts, episode 97!